To look at David and Chloé Wilcock you wouldn’t know there was anything different about them. Until two years ago David worked for a refugee charity in Kent and Chloé was a teacher. David still sings as a lay clerk in Canterbury Cathedral.
However, two years ago the young family decided to make a life change that some of our readers might consider slightly crazy.
As part of our second series on exciting local businesses, the Journal caught up with Chloé and David to find out what they’d been doing.
“Teaching was becoming increasingly stressful” says Chloé. “Arts funding kept getting cut and the job wasn’t what it used to be.”
So together the Wilcocks made the decision to throw in their steady jobs and start up Goatally Soaps, a boutique firm selling upmarket artisan soaps made from goats’ milk.
The milk comes from a small herd Chloé and David keep on an acre of land outside Ickham. The scents used to flavour the soap come from herbs and plants grown in their greenhouse.
David explains: “goats’ milk is great for the skin as it contains natural alpha hydroxy acids which are used throughout the cosmetic industry as anti-ageing products, but are often manufactured synthetically.”
“Some people think soap made from goats’ milk has a distinctive odour, but we freeze the milk immediately, so it never has a chance to age. We sell scented and unscented bars, the scents made using raw herbs that we grow and produce ourselves.”
I visit the Wilcocks in the field they rent from a local farmer. Chloé milks the goats while David chops up old Christmas trees to be used as fuel. Their baby son Albert oversees the proceedings from a safe elevated position out of the reach of the billy goat which weighs as much as I do (too much!) and seems to enjoy trying to push me over in between bouts of releasing sexual tension, attacking a nearby tree.
Running a livestock business is clearly hard work and I ask the couple if they’d ever consider going back to what many would call a ‘normal’ life.
“We think about it all the time” laughs Chloé, “but we’d never do it.
“No matter how hard it is being out here in the cold or dealing with problems, it beats sitting in an office and doing a nine to five that brings little-to-no sense of achievement.”
David and Chloé originally thought about selling the milk, but were put off by the high setup costs. Now they sell their soap online and via local artisan shops. They are beginning to do more wedding favours and think that this is a side of the business that may keep growing.
I ask them what the best and worst moments have been since they started.
Chloé tells me “losing a mother goat and her kids during the kidding season is particularly hard.
“You put a lot of investment both financial and emotional into rearing these animals and losing a mum trying to birth her kids is just awful.”
“But if you work with livestock, you’re also going to see deadstock. It doesn’t make it easier, but you push yourself to get on.”
In contrast David tells me his favourite story.
“We don’t sell our meat, but we do eat it ourselves, and we use a butcher in the centre of Canterbury.
“Soon after we started, I was still driving our family hatchback. I parked in the city centre car park and got out, slung the carcass over my shoulders and marched through town with a dead goat on my back.
“I definitely got some funny looks. It might have looked better if I’d been driving a farm vehicle.”
Despite the high price of renting land in the south east, David and Chloé are making a success of their rather unorthodox business. Are they part of a growing movement of people retracing the steps of the industrial revolution and heading back to the countryside?
Who knows. But it definitely makes Canterbury a more interesting place to live!
Do you run a business with an interesting story to tell? Be part of our latest series of business features, get in touch with the Journal today.